Galatas 25 May|
|Once the airfield at Maleme had fallen to
the Germans the main activity for the next couple of days came to centre
around Galatas and Canea as 5th brigade fell back, and the Germans
pushed east towards Canea and Suda Bay.
|The link on the right is for a book by
'Sandy' Thomas who was injured during the battle at Galatas, evacuated
to Greece by the Germans, he then managed to escape to Turkey. He
went on to become a Major General.
|While the German Group West was in action around Maleme their Group
Centre was to concentrate on the area of Galatas, Canea and Suda
Bay. Group Centre would be delivered in two waves; the first wave
would attack the area of Canea and Galatas while the second wave was
planned to attack Rethymnon in the afternoon then divert troops west to
support the first wave in their attacks.
The outline of the plan was for two detachments of the Assault Regiment from
1 Battalion to land by glider and take out the AA batteries on the Akrotiri
peninsula (Captain Altmann) and south of Canea (Lieutenant Gentz).
Meanwhile parachutists of 3 Parachute Regiment (Colonel Heidrich) in four
battalions (I, II & III plus the Parachute Engineer Battalion) were to land
around Galatas. I & II would land around 2 miles south of Galatas and
would head east to Suda to link up with Altmann; III Battalion would land east
and north-east of Galatas and attack Canea from the west. The Engineer
Battalion would land a mile south-west of I & II battalions, acting as
rearguard to the others and taking local objectives.
Landing with 3 Parachute Regiment would be the H.Q. for 7th Air
Division (Lt. Col. Suessmann, also spelt Sussman in some accounts).
Airborne assaults using gliders are a risky business with the success of
the landing obviously dependent on the gliders arriving at the right
place, the men then being able to get out and assemble before coming under
attack, and the disposition of the defenders being as briefed. In
the 'coup de main' assaults at Eben Emael and
Pegasus Bridge the glider landings were very
successful, those by Altmann and Gentz were less so.
|Altmann's force did not land together but were dispersed, many were
killed or injured very quickly and one of the AA positions that they had
as an objective was in fact a dummy position. Against stiff
opposition from the Northumberland Hussars they held out in isolated
groups for a couple of days until they surrendered through lack of
supplies. Gentz's group was not muck luckier, again they were
dispersed but survivors did manage to get through to join 3 Parachute
Regiment after overcoming one AA battery, but only 24 men made it out of
over 90 who landed together. The glider carrying the Divisional
Commander, Suessmann, broke up soon after take-off, losing its wings, all
on board were killed and the command of the operation now devolved on
|The parachutists in the battalions of 3 Parachute Regiment also had a
hard time, many were dropped in the wrong area. The only real
success came from Capt. von de Heydte of 1 Battalion who took the prison
south of Galatas and moved eastwards to Perivolia and Mournies, collecting
II Company of III Battalion en-route. This put von de Heydte about 2
miles south of Canea.
|In the Canea-Galatas sector Galatas
became the focal point for the action but many units, attackers
and defenders, were separated from their main groups and
overwhelmed individually. Kurt Heher was a war correspondent
and in an article for 'Crete Eyewitnessed' he said "The
capital of the island is being defended here at Galatas. The
decision for the possession of Suda Bay is being fought for here.
It is a battle foe the huge supply and equipping base set up by the
British to support 20,000 men and their equipment for six
months." Von der Heydte expressed a similar sentiment;
"The whole battle of Crete had in this area two points of real
strategic importance - that was Hill 107 and Maleme, and the village of
When Heidrich landed around 9a.m.
on the 20th it did not take him long to appreciate that the situation was not
going well. If he was to succeed in his objective of taking
Canea then he must first occupy the high ground around Galatas,
ground held by New Zealand troops under Colonel
Kippenberger. Galatas was in the 10 Brigade front, with much
of it defended by the Composite Battalion spread out over four
hills; Red Hill, Ruin Hill, Wheat Hill and in the south, Pink Hill
which saw most of the action.
The position of the
elements of the Composite Battalion on the 20th May.
[Map taken from Davin's
|Pink Hill was defended by the
Divisional Petrol Company. As one might surmise from the
unit name, these were not normal infantry, they were mainly
drivers and technicians who had barely enough weapons to go one
each. The day was a hard one with a number of attacks,
successfully fought off, but it was apparent to Colonel
Kippenberger (commanding 10 Brigade) that Galatas prison was the
point of concentration for the Germans, and a counter attack would
be needed at some point. To do this he needed more infantry.
|At 7pm Kippenberger sent a message to
Brigadier Puttick at Division;" .....
Pressure on my left has been increasing. .... Casualties abt 60
incl 4 off(icers) and are continuing steadily. Rations &
ammo alright water short. ... If no counter attack can be mounted
to clear prison area where enemy are clearing landing field
suggest that after dark I should withdraw to shorter line......
Please advise position and instruct. Don't think this line
would hold against serious attack tomorrow. Have had to thin
out beach defence." So what of the counter
|Brigadier Inglis was of the same mind as
Kippenberger, a counter attack was necessary. Earlier, at
around 11am Freyberg made the decision to release most of his
reserve to Brigadier Puttick (O.C. NZ Division). This meant
that 18 & 19 Battalions of 4 Brigade (Inglis) came under the
command of Puttick. For Freyberg to do this, while there had
as yet been no sea landings or drops on Rethymnon or Heraklion,
must have meant that he intended them to be used in some
way. Unfortunately he did not say how, he left it to the
discretion of the local commander, Puttick. This lack of
decisiveness would be criticized later, and was instrumental in
the way events turned out.
|By early afternoon Inglis could see that
the main landings were at Maleme and Galatas, and he had heard
that all was not going well for Andrew with 22 Battalion, he
believed a counter attack was needed in the prison area and that
then it should be pushed on to assist 5 Brigade at Maleme.
Puttick did not agree with the need for this counter attack.
he took the cautionary view that 18 & 19 Battalions may be
needed to counter later threats, and did not have reports of
problems at 5 Brigade. When he did hear that Hargest was to
assist Andrew, it was only to be with two companies, which did not
seem to be a major problem. Added to this was the lack of
definitive direction from Freyberg on what the reserve he had
released should be used for. It was not until 17.30 that
Puttick saw a need for some scale of counter attack.
|A report had come in to say that the
Germans were preparing a landing ground west of the prison, also
referred to in Kippenberger's 19.00
message. If this were
true and if the Germans were successful then they could
concentrate sufficient force to cut 5 Brigade from the rest of
Freyberg's force. Puttick decided on a battalion size attack
(19 Battalion), assisted by light tanks under Lt.
Farran. The attack was to "clear prison area of the
enemy". This would have been a challenge for a
battalion but as it transpired Maj. Blackburn (O.C. 19 Battalion)
could only spare two companies for this attack. In the event
the attack did not reach its objectives and in the command
confusion Col. Kippenberger was not aware of the 19 Battalion
intended action in this area. When he did learn of it he
believed it too weak to be successful and sent orders to call it
off. At the end of the day (20th May) the Germans saw their positions
as somewhat precarious and were nervous of a counter attack, which
they expected. It never came.
|About one and a half miles west of
Canea, on the coast road, was 7 British Hospital and NZ Field
Ambulance, both of these also came under attack on the 20th May
which obviously caused some controversy then and afterwards.
Although they were marked by red crosses the Germans seem to have
believed them to be "tented camps", and so treated them
as genuine targets. The question of whether or not these
were international infringements of the Geneva Convention was
addressed in Davin's history, Appendix III. The hospital
fell in the area assigned to 3 Parachute Regiment under Col.
Heidrich, with the assigned battalion (III) under Major Ludwig
Heilmann having specific responsibility for the area in
question. All four of the companies in the battalion were
assigned to capture the area. It was Davin's view that it
was unlikely that a force of this size would have been assigned,
in the critical opening phase, if the Germans were aware of its
hospital status. However, the hospital was well marked with
red crosses which would have been easily seen from the air.
One suggestion is that German Intelligence were showing another
example of their poor work. Intelligence prior to the attack
had estimated Allied strength at only about one third of its
actual strength, that being so a hospital apparently big enough
for some 600 beds would have been much too large, so it could
either be assumed not to be a hospital, or Intelligence would have
needed to re-do their estimates of the island strength just prior
to the attack. After the attack on the 20th the hospital
received no further attacks.
|Suda Bay 15:00
Capture of Maleme apparently
the enemy's objective. This has failed thus upsetting their
plans. Continuous enemy reconnaissance accompanied by sporadic
bombing and machine gunning chiefly against A.A. defences. Military
hospital between CANEA & MALEME was captured, now
recaptured. Fairly strong enemy party south of CANEA-MALEME road not
yet mopped up. Remaining parties reported accounted for.
HERAKLION bombed but no landing. RETIMO not yet attacked.
Throughout the day there was little change, although there was some localized
fierce fighting and a small attack supported by 3 of Lt.
Farran's tanks. Colonel Heidrich with 3 Parachute Regiment had
a expected a counter attack during the day and knew he would be in
trouble if it came; it didn't. One reason for this could be that
Puttick was pre-occupied with planning for that night's counter
attack on Maleme, and continuing concerns at the possibility of the
invasion from the sea.
As with the 21st there was no real major change in this area. Heidrich,
with his 3rd Parachute Regiment wanted to try to push north towards the
coastal road, if he were to be successful he would cut off 5 Brigade
from 10 Brigade. This was possibility was the main concern of
Divisional HQ when they took the decision to withdraw 5 Brigade into
reserve. In the event on the 22nd Heidrich did not manage the
thrust north and the day was one of constant small attacks by both
sides, with no real change other than the withdrawal of 5 Brigade.
27 October 2006 the Daily Telegraph carried an obituary to Maj-Gen
Michael Forrester who won two DSOs and two MCs, one of these on
Crete. Forrester was posted to the British Military Mission to
Greece in 1941, but was then part of the evacuation to Crete where he
became liaison officer to the units of the Greek army fighting under the
command of the New Zealand Division. The following is from the
Telegraph; "On May 20 1941, when the German
airborne invasion began, Forrester was staying in a cottage with Prince
Peter of Greece and Patrick Leigh-Fermor. He was ordered to report
to HQ NZ Division, which directed him to Galatos, (sic) where the
remnants of the 6th Greek Regiment had concentrated.
By May 22 the German attacks had reached a key
hill near the village - its loss would have put at risk the whole
position defended by the New Zealanders. Forrester rallied some
200 Greek troops. A tall, fair-haired man, he disdained to wear a
helmet as he led a counter-attack which was joined by Cretan villagers,
both men and women, all running and yelling and reacting to his whistled
A New Zealand officer who witnessed the charge
said later that it was the most thrilling moment of his life.
Forrester's dash and determination drove back the enemy and, for the
moment, rescued a critical situation. He was awarded an immediate
bar to his MC."
Captain Forrester as he then was, was later evacuated from
Crete. His exploit is detailed in Davin, page 234.
|With the withdrawal of the 5th Brigade on the
23rd May, Maleme was now well and truly in German hands. General Ringel
formed Group West and Group Center into one consolidated group, Ringel
Group. German fighter aircraft could now fly in to Maleme, this would
allow them to fly their full sortie endurance over Crete, further compounding
the problems for Freyberg's forces on the ground. Ringel's initial plan
after securing the airfield was to attack the Galatas Heights, pursue the
defenders into Chania, then attack Suda Bay on the 26th. He would use
Ramcke's paratroop Group to press along the coast road towards 5 Brigade
while Colonel Utz with a battalion of 85 Mountain Regiment would loop
south of 5 Brigade.
Platanias and Stalos on 23rd May.
[Picture from Davin's
was contacted by Mike Moumoutjis who lives in the USA, both
his parents are from the village of Galatas, and his grandfather
was a fighter in the resistance. Like many in the
resistance, much of his time during the occupation was spent
hiding from the Germans, but he was captured and sent to a Labour
Camp in Germany. His parents have since returned to Galatas
to live, now that they are retired.
|The Galatas Heights
are only some 400 feet high. They form an arc, or bow with Red Hill in the
north some half mile from the coast road. They then arc south east through
Wheat Hill and Park Hill to Cemetery Hill. Across the arc are Ruin Ridge,
with Ruin Hill as the highest point, west of the arc. 5th Brigade, having
withdrawn, was put in reserve and as no fresh troops were brought from the Suda
Bay area Puttick intended defending against five German battalions with only two
battalions of his own.
|The main activity in the Galatas area on the
23rd was associated with the withdrawal of 5 Brigade into reserve.
Puttick was aware that, during the day and before the withdrawal was
complete, there was a gap between the rear of 5 Brigade and the right of
10 Brigade. At this time Ramcke's group was pushing along the
coast road [see map above], together with 100 Mountain regiment, while
85 Mountain Regiment were on their flanking move to the south.
Heidrich, with his 3 Parachute regiment, had dispatched Major Heilmann
with a group of 150 officers and men north towards the village of
Stalos, with the aim of cutting the coast road between the Allied 5th
and 10th Brigades. The main fighting in the 10th Brigade area was
carried out by patrols aiming to drive the Germans out of Stalos.
Kippenberger was in command of the troops defending the Galatas
sector, both 4th and 10th Brigades, and believed that he needed to
reorganize to be able to meet the attacks he expected would come on the
24th. So far the Composite Battalion had been holding the position
on the western edge of 4 Brigade, but their make up is suggested by the
name of the Battalion; they were a composite of available men from
artillery and service units, they were not trained infantry.
Kippenberger wanted them, under cover of darkness, to reposition
themselves on Ruin Ridge, north west of Galatas and behind 18 Battalion,
who would take over their positions. Unfortunately Lt. Col. Gray
felt that his battalion frontage would be too long and he decided not to
occupy Ruin Hill when it was vacated by the withdrawal of the Composite
Battalion. This would have consequences later.
Galatas, 24th May. 5th Brigade are now in rear of 4th Brigade.
[Picture from Davin's
|During the 23rd General Ringel made some
changes in the German organization by promulgating an order that Groups
West and Centre would now operate under himself as Group Ringel.
The Allied forces started the 24th in the positions shown in the map
above, and as the NZ Official History tells it; "When daylight
revealed it clearly to them, the defenders could not have relished the
new situation. Wheat Hill was partly overlooked by the undefended
Ruin Hill, and Red Hill completely so." Lt. Col. Gray's
decision that left Ruin Hill undefended would be regretted. Again
from OH; "Morning on the brigade front was one of great tension and
feverish preparation for what was expected to be a formidable onslaught
and one that would soon come." The day was one of waiting
expectantly for an attack that was bound to be made by the German
forces, it started at around 4 pm after artillery preparation by 95
Artillery Regiment around Platanias and Ay Marina. Artillery had
been a major part of the units flown into Maleme during the 23rd.
|In fact there was little action on the 24th
except that the Germans who now held Ruin Hill were able to put down
fire on Red Hill and Lt. Col. Gray, who had left Ruin Hill unoccupied
now realized that this error meant that he would also have to vacate Red
Hill. Both sides were now readying themselves for the attack that
the Germans planned to launch on the 25th, and the defending forces
expected to receive the following day.